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The Management of Common Property Resources: Collective Action as an Alternative to Privatization or State Regulation

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Wade, Robert
Date: 1986
Agency: World Bank, Washington, DC
Series: Research Unit Agriculture and Rural Development Department Operational Policy Staff, no. 54
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/5886
Sector: Theory
Subject(s): collective action
tragedy of the commons
common pool resources
Abstract: "When will villagers come together to supply themselves with goods and services that they all need but could not provide for themselves individually? In what circumstances will those who face a potential 'tragedy of the commons' be able to organize a system of rules by which the tragedy is averted? Can locally-based collective action be a viable way to manage common property resources? Many writers on collective action and common property are sweepingly pessimistic about the ability of the people who face problems of common property resources to organize sustainable patterns of use for themselves. Some are inclined to favor privatization of the commons as the only viable solution; others, the imposition of state regulation. This paper shows, with reference to Prisoners' Dilemma, Garett Hardin's 'tragedy of the commons', and Mancur Olson's 'logic of collective action', that the analytical basis for this pessimism is weak, in many situations of village-based common property resource use. There can thus be no general presumption that the collective action route to common property resource management will fail, any more than there can be a general presumption that it will work. The paper suggests a number of factors to do with characteristics of the resources, the user group, and group-state relations, on which the chances of success depend."

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